American Association for Cancer Research

Press Releases: 2008

Breast Cancer Common among Women with Family History but without BRCA1 or BRCA2


November 17, 2008

WASHINGTON, D.C. - New data presented at the American Association for Cancer Research's Seventh Annual International Conference on Frontiers in Cancer Prevention Research outlines new data, which assesses breast cancer risk among women with a strong family history of breast cancer, but without a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation. This may facilitate earlier detection and prevention among high-risk women.

The study, conducted at the University of Toronto, showed that women with a significant family history of breast cancer remain at increased risk for developing the disease, despite having negative BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations. These mutations typically signal a need for preventive treatment. The excess risk was about fourfold higher than that of average women.

"In clinical practice we often see families with a significant history of breast cancer and negative BRCA1 and BRCA2 tests, and it is often difficult to counsel them about their risk without this information," said Steven Narod, M.D., the study's senior author. "It is clear that genes are involved, but it is hard to be more specific."

Narod, who holds the Canada Research Chair in breast cancer at the University of Toronto and Women's College Research Institute, said this new data would help physicians counsel their patients. "Now when we see families such as this, we will be able to offer better advice about their actual risk. It is clear to me that the risk is high enough that we need to discuss options such as breast MRI for screening and chemoprevention with tamoxifen or raloxifene," said Narod.

Narod and his team of researchers followed 1,492 women from 365 families with negative BRCA1 and BRCA2 genetic mutations for a minimum of five years. These women had a family history of either two or more cases of breast cancer among close relatives under the age of 50 or three cases among close relatives at any age.

Breast cancer rates among these women were compared with control rates found in local breast cancer registries, and researchers noted a 4.3-fold increase.

The highest relative risk was among women under the age of 40, where the increased risk was nearly 15 times higher. Absolute risk was highest among women age 50 to 70 at one percent per year compared with 0.4 percent per year among women between the ages of 30 and 50. This translates into about 30 to 40 percent over their lifetime.

"For all these women, based on what we've identified, tamoxifen would be a good option, as well as breast screening MRI," said Narod. "Our hope is to be able to prevent or pick up on breast cancer early enough to stop patients from dying. We will see what patients decide to do with this advice." In the future, we will follow women like this closely to evaluate the best methods of prevention.

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The mission of the American Association for Cancer Research is to prevent and cure cancer. Founded in 1907, AACR is the world's oldest and largest professional organization dedicated to advancing cancer research. The membership includes more than 28,000 basic, translational and clinical researchers; health care professionals; and cancer survivors and advocates in the United States and 80 other countries. The AACR marshals the full spectrum of expertise from the cancer community to accelerate progress in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer through high-quality scientific and educational programs. It funds innovative, meritorious research grants. The AACR Annual Meeting attracts more than 17,000 participants who share the latest discoveries and developments in the field. Special conferences throughout the year present novel data across a wide variety of topics in cancer research, treatment and patient care. The AACR publishes five major peer-reviewed journals: Cancer Research; Clinical Cancer Research; Molecular Cancer Therapeutics; Molecular Cancer Research; and Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention. The AACR's most recent publication and its sixth major journal, Cancer Prevention Research, is dedicated exclusively to cancer prevention, from preclinical research to clinical trials. The AACR also publishes CR, a magazine for cancer survivors and their families, patient advocates, physicians and scientists. CR provides a forum for sharing essential, evidence-based information and perspectives on progress in cancer research, survivorship and advocacy.

Media Contact:
Jeremy Moore
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Jeremy.moore@aacr.org
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